Have you ever really listened to the lyrics of Scarborough Fair? Even in the Simon and Garfunkel version, they’re a little bit creepy – asking a woman to do a series of impossible tasks to become a man’s true love. The version Werlin uses (one she crafted for the novel, though there are some recorded versions that are much closer to hers than to S&G) is much creepier – the woman has rejected the man (elfin knight) and must perform these three impossible tasks to avoid becoming his, and her daughters after her. And it’s a curse and a lesson for the Scarborough women, passed from mother to daughter as each gets pregnant at seventeen and goes insane just after her daughter is born. And so it has gone for hundreds of years, dozens of women, and now Lucy finds herself pregnant after being raped at the prom.
I spent most of the book wanting to hug her family – her foster parents and her childhood best friend. They did everything right. They hugged her when she needed hugs, they presented her options – including abortion – and offered their advice, but accepted it when Lucy disagreed. They took an unreal situation and developed a very real plan to solve it, simply because that’s what Lucy needed them to do. The Elfin Knight himself is seriously overdone, but he actually gets fairly little page-time, and otherwise the medieval curse and its resolution are woven seamlessly into Lucy’s twenty-first century issues as she struggles to deal with the rape, her pregnancy, school, etc, etc. The solutions she and her family find are creative but make sense. In the places it really matters, it’s really good.
So the Elfin Prince is over the top. So there are a few passages of ridiculous sap and profundity syndrome. [minor spoiler] So I wanted there to be a Scarborough woman born free of the curse, and am not satisfied to see the name die with the curse [/minor spoiler]. So I can’t not nitpick a little. But it dealt with rape and teen pregnancy well, with a remarkable family. Perhaps most importantly, it presented Lucy’s story as Lucy: it doesn’t moralize and say that the decisions she makes would be right for anyone else, just that they’re the right decisions for her.
It’s a book that makes it worth having Scarborough Fair stuck in your head for three days. And trust me, you will.